Posts Tagged ‘ British Muslims ’

Valentine’s Day in Islam?

By Paul Salahuddin Armstrong Co-Director, Association of British Muslims

I was asked to share my views on Valentine’s Day. Personally, I really don’t see what’s the problem that some people seem to have with this celebration. The fact that it’s a Western, originally Christian festival is in all honesty, completely besides the point. We should celebrate Love everyday!

Many cultures have something similar, a day to celebrate love, to send a message of love to your beloved – a person whom you would like to marry or is already your husband or wife. Seriously, what’s wrong with that? What could possibly be wrong with that?
The only argument I’ve heard against Valentine’s Day, is the same one I hear about every other festival besides the two Eids – it’s not part of Islam. Well, sorry, if that’s the best these people can come up with, it’s a pathetic argument – cars and aeroplanes aren’t technically part of Islam either, but we still use them!

More to the point, a Muslim can celebrate any festival, even the social aspect of those of other religions, as long as this doesn’t mean they end up committing shirk – i.e. worshipping another deity besides God or associating partners with God – and this is the position of the mainstream scholars of Al-Azhar University in Egypt.

Indeed, for the vast majority of people who celebrate it, Valentine’s Day isn’t even that religious, rather it’s just a wonderful opportunity to show loved ones how much you appreciate them – which is something every Muslim should do anyway, even if they do not celebrate Valentine’s Day!

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– Finally, a Muslim perspective on Valentine’s Day that we can agree with! As compared to many other articles that decry Valentine’s Day as a pagan holiday and it is shirk to celebrate it, Paul has succinctly yet effectively given a great differing Muslim angle on this day as compared to the Orthodox Muslim view.

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Amir Khan, A Son of Pakistan

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

Amir Khan is a British boxer. Let’s first get that straight. He represented Britain in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece where he was the only British boxer in the contingent. In those Olympics, the British flag was raised and a medal counted towards their overall tally due to Amir’s performance. At the age of 17, he brought home the silver in his lightweight boxing class and became the youngest British boxer to represent the United Kingdom since Colin Jones in 1976.

Since then, an impressive professional career has blossomed to where presently Khan is the current WBA Super Lightweight champion of the world. He has a record of 26 wins and only one loss with 17 of those wins coming by way of a knockout. That sole loss to Briedis Prescott, where Khan was knocked out in the first round, is the only blemish in his otherwise stellar career. Since that bout in 2008 against Prescott, Khan has gone on to defeat such notable fighters as Marcos Antonio Barrera, Marcos Maidana and Paul McCloskey. Today he is considered one of the best pound for pound British fighters in the world.

Standing in his way to even bigger fame and glory was tonight’s fight against Zab Judah, the IBF light welterweight champion of the world and a fighter who had won five world titles in different weight classes. The fight was thought to be very interesting as Judah is considered a very experienced fighter and someone who was capable of knocking out the lightening quick Khan. The winner of tonight’s fight also would go on to unify the Light Welterweight titles as he would be the IBF and WBA Light Welterweight champion of the world.

In the boxing circles there was also a lot of talk of a potential fight in the near future with the undefeated Floyd Mayweather Jr. prior to Kans’s fight against Judah. Mayweather is considered as one of the best boxers in history due to his impressive undefeated fighting record of 41 wins and 0 losses. In an interesting note, Amir Khan is trained by Freddie Roach who also happens to be the trainer for Manny Pacquiao, the seven division world champion and also arguably one of the best fighters of all time. Pacquiao is the only boxer that Mayweather has refused to fight due to one reason or another. A fight that boxing fans around the world have been salivating at for several years now. A potential fight between Khan and Mayweather will need to suffice the fight fans until and if the Mayweather vs Pacquiao fight ever materializes. Therefore saying that the ramifications of tonight’s fight are big would be an understatement in the boxing community.

As for me, my love for boxing must have started at an early age when I learned that my father, on a training trip to the United States, met and had a lengthy meeting with the greatest of all time, Muhammad Ali. At that time my dad had gone to America in the 70’s on a training course on behalf of his company. While staying at the Hilton hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, he ran into the world heavyweight champion Ali in the lobby where a crowd was hounding the champion.

Instantly recognizing Ali, who surely must be one of the most famous people the world has ever known, my dad reached out to shake his hand and at the same time uttered “Asalaam-alikum” to Ali. Grabbing my father’s hand, Ali replied with “Walikum Asalaam” and asked where my father was from, to which he replied Pakistan.

Intrigued with meeting a Muslim from the East as he later stated to my father, Ali invited him to his penthouse suite where my dad proceeded to spend close to two hours with Ali and his entourage during which time the champ asked him many questions about Pakistan and Islam. In particular, he was interested in how the religion was practiced as compared to the way practiced by the Muslims of the Nation of Islam in America, an organization that Ali was influenced by.

Having heard numerous accounts of his story growing up along with seeing countless pictures of my dad and Ali during their encounter so many years ago, not only endeared me to the champ but also to the sport of boxing. Since then I have always followed boxing and seen many great fights and boxers. But for the first time, my interests in boxing along with many people of Pakistani origins has piqued further by the arrival on the world stage of Amir Khan.

Although he is known as the pride of Bolton in England where he was born, his Pakistani origins are never far away as they are a big part of his life and spirituality since his family hails from Kahuta in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Kahuta which was previously famous for being the site of Pakistan’s main nuclear facility is now also known as the area of Pakistan where Amir’s family originates.

This nation of Pakistan has in the last few years perhaps become synonymous with terrorism, instability, bombings, religious intolerance and extremism. But for one night, the Pakistani people can raise their head with pride and claim Amir as one of their own. He is a product of their soil who is making the country proud during a difficult time in their history. It is also a credit to his native England that promoted an environment for him to train and succeed. There is no limit to the amount of other talent in Pakistan that would have a chance to succeed if only there were such facilities and opportunities in Pakistan or even stability and security that was provided to Khan in England.

There is no doubt that to many people both inside and outside the nation of his forefathers, Amir Khan represents the best of every Pakistani. To these people. whether they are Pakistani Canadians in Toronto, or a youth in the inner streets of Birmingham, UK or a Pakistani American eating paan on Devon St in Chicago, Amir Khan is one of their own.

As he fought and defeated Judah in Las Vegas Saturday night, Amir Khan looked up and saw the thousands of British fans in attendance who had traveled from the UK and were proudly waiving the Union Jack. Deep inside, he must have known that many more millions in Pakistan and across the world were praying and hoping for even greater future success for him as the hopes and dreams of an entire nation are squarely on his able shoulders.

Manzer Munir, a proud American of Pakistani descent, is the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at www.PakistanisforPeace.com as well at other websites as a freelance journalist and writer.

Muslim American Artists Strive to Bridge a Chasm

By Thalia Gigerenzer for The New York Times

When Wajahat Ali, a young Muslim American playwright from Fremont, needed to build an audience for his work, he produced his plays in cramped Pakistani restaurants in the East Bay and used Facebook to get the word out.

His play “The Domestic Crusaders” went on to open at the Berkeley Repertory Theater in 2005, and then moved to Off Broadway. Now, family members who were initially skeptical of Mr. Ali’s decision to pursue writing see great power in his profession.

Mr. Ali said his uncle had told him that he wished he had “made his son into a journalist,” because “after 30 years of living in this country, I turn on the TV and see myself as a terrorist.”

Mr. Ali is one of a growing number of Bay Area artists who are reimagining one of the country’s most complicated compound identities: Muslim American.

At a time when Islam has been heavily politicized, many Muslim artists say they hope the arts can expand understanding of their faith among non-Muslims as well as bridge American and Islamic traditions.

“We’re at a point where Islam is really being defined in this country, and it’s going to be through the arts,” said Javed Ali, founder of Illume, a Muslim online news, arts and culture magazine based in Newark that serves as one of the central nodes of the Bay Area Muslim American network.

Bay Area Islamic organizations, including the much-heralded Zaytuna College in Berkeley, have embraced the shift toward culture. In January, the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California will open a new gallery in the center to showcase Muslim artists.

The cultural center, in Oakland, decided to increase its arts programs six months ago, said Ali Sheikholeslami, its executive director. The center regularly hosts an event called “Islam and Authors,” which invites authors to discuss topics related to Islam.

“We want to break through common stereotypes and present the whole spectrum of Muslim reality,” said the cultural center’s marketing and development director, Jason van Boom.

Hatem Bazian, one of the Islamic scholars behind Zaytuna College, the first Muslim liberal arts institution in this country, echoed that thought.

“In American society,” Mr. Bazian said, “artistic expression is the way we narrate our story, so Muslims are beginning to draw their own narrative.”

The Bay Area’s Muslim population, estimated to be 250,000, is one of the most diverse in the United States.

Mr. Bazian, who is also a senior lecturer at the departments of Near Eastern and ethnic studies at the University of California, Berkeley, said the wide mix of ethnicities and large number of converts in the Bay Area’s Muslim population “creates synergies” that can be seen in new art forms that break ethnic molds.

Some local artists have taken an online entrepreneurial approach to Islam. Khadija O’Connell, a Hayward resident, started her Web-based arts and craft business, Barakah Life, in 2003 as a way to bring a modern, handcrafted aesthetic to Muslim items most commonly found in gaudy, imported styles.

Ms. O’Connell relies on online tools like blogging and Facebook to promote ideas like her pop-up crescent moon cards that would look at home on the popular crafts site Etsy.

“People used to adapt neutral Christmas ornaments, like stars, and hang them up for Ramadan,” recalled Ms. O’Connell, who converted to Islam in college. “I wanted to bring new traditions to Muslims living in the West.”

For local Muslim American artists whose art has been deemed “radical” by more conservative Muslims, the road has not been an easy one.

Audience members walked out of an early November U.C. Berkeley performance of the play “Hijabi Monologues,” which features the stories of Muslim women and contains sexual references. “I’ve spent more time and energy negotiating with the community whether music is haraam [“forbidden”] than putting out content,” said Anas Canon, a convert and the founder of the record label and Muslim artist collective Remarkable Current, which includes the Bay Area MC/spoken word artist Baraka Blue. The label’s music ranges from soul to hip hop and has collaborated with artists such as Mos Def.

When Remarkable Current, which is based in both Oakland and Los Angeles, recently held a masquerade-themed book-signing with a D.J. in an Oakland home, debate erupted online ostensibly over men and women in costumes interacting together. An impassioned Facebook note condemning the event unleashed heated comments from Muslims across the Bay Area.

In the wake of controversies like the one over a proposed Muslim cultural center near ground zero in New York City, some second-generation Muslims’ art is tinged with a sense of urgency.

“Our narrative has been stolen from us,” Wajahat Ali said, referring to the common depiction of Muslims in the American news media.

The tendency of his parents’ generation to push their children to prestigious professions like medicine and business discouraged creative voices, he said.

But Bay Area Muslim artists are fast creating new narratives. Mr. Ali’s play, which depicts a modern Pakistani-American family, is featured in McSweeney’s literary magazine this month.

For many years, Mr. Ali said, he had described the local arts scene as “latent, with a heartbeat.” But now, he said, “it’s dancing.”

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